Review: Countess Dracula

Countess Dracula.jpgCountess Dracula

Countess Dracula is a Hammer Horror film based somewhat loosely on the story of Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian Countess who, in the early 1600’s was accused of torturing and killing between 80 and 650 young girls.  It was said, though not confirmed, that she bathed in the girls’ blood in the belief  that it would restore her youth and beauty.

Countess Dracula centres on the blood bath story, suggesting that not only was it true, but that it was also genuinely effective.  So effective, in fact, that the widowed Elizabeth has to masquerade as her daughter to explain her now youthful appearance.

The film opens with the funeral of the Count.  His death doesn’t bother Elizabeth that much, as she has been carrying on a secret affair with the castle’s steward, Captain Dobi.

From the very beginning, we see the contempt the nobility shows to its people.  As the Countess’ carriage rides to the castle, a poor man runs along it, asking for a job and is knocked down by Dobi in response.

This goes a long way to explaining the ease with which Elizabeth starts to kill.  She first discovers the curative powers of virgin blood as she violently reprimands a servant girl for filling her bath with overly hot water.  They are essentially property to her.  When the mother of the servant girl expresses concern for her missing daughter, she’s told not to worry because she still has five more (in other words, the servants are cattle).

The Count leaves his prized stables and horses to one of his war buddies, Imre Toth.  Toth is relatively young, and the Countess, in her rejuvenated body, lusts after him.  He feels likewise, and they begin a relationship.  However, the effects of the blood are short lived, and Elizabeth finds that she must keep killing to continue her relationship with Toth.

Dobi is bitter.  First because he didn’t get the stables (receiving only old weapons and armor, instead), and second because the woman he loves his now with another man.  To add insult to injury, Elizabeth orders Dobi to procure victims for her; victims whose blood is fueling her new relationship.  Being treated with little more respect than the girls he’s ordered to kill does not sit well with him.

Despite being a horror movie, the crimes of Elizabeth are greatly toned down from the ones she is actually accused of.  Of course, it was made it 1971, long before the rise of torture porn; also, Hammer was always more interested in atmosphere than they were with shock or gore.  Most of the violence is off screen, but Elizabeth is an sufficiently villainous monster to keep a horrific tone over the film.

Review: Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis

return of hte living dead 4.jpgA group of teens fight zombies… with dirt bikes!   (The teens have the dirt bikes,  not the zombies).

This is the fourth film in the Return of the Living Dead series, the first of which is a modern day classic.  This one, by contrast, is at best ‘uninspired.’

It feels like an ’80s kids movie.  There’s this group of teens, a jock, a nerd, a computer guy, a hot girl, and some more who are all inexplicably friends (really, these people would never associate with each other in high school).  And they all ride dirt bikes!  Why? Cause dirt bikes are cool, dude!

There’s a medical research facility in town, whom we discover is using Trioxin (the gaseous toxin that makes the dead walk in the Return of the Living Dead universe) to create super-zombie-soldiers.  We’ve seen this concept in a few other films, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Zombies can take more hits to the body, but they’ll still drop with a single headshot; and given that they’re so much slower that a living person, a headshot isn’t hard to achieve.  And that’s not even touching the fact that the dead are stupid and can’t strategize or adapt.

Anyway, one of the teens gets in an accident.  The doctors tell the other teens that  he died; but one of the teens, the hot girl, sees the supposedly dead teen being wheeled into the medical research facility.  By the way, hot girl has a part time job as a security guard at the facility; cause who better than a high school student to guard your dangerous super-soldier research program?

The teens mount a rescue, on dirt bikes, and in the ensuing chaos, an army of walking dead are released.

There’s nothing that needs to be said about the characters.  They’re all base stereotypes with shallow motivation.  The acting was competent, with no one standing out for either positive or negative reasons.

This was a made-for-TV production with a modest budget, so the makeup and gore effects are neither graphic nor particularly well-done; but they’re passable, and they aren’t bad enough to detract from the film.

It’s strange.  I can’t point to any one thing in the movie that’s unforgivably bad; but nothing is good, either.  It’s like the makers of this film managed to reach a perfect balance of minimally acceptable quality.

Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis is a huge let down for fans of the franchise.  Judged on it’s own merits, it’s merely completely forgettable.

Review: Night Of The Demons

Night of the Demons Steel Book.jpgNight Of The Demons

It’s Halloween, and ten assorted teens have assembled for a night of debauchery.  The ‘creepy girl,’ Angela has chosen Hull House as the scene; an abandoned funeral parlor that is now steeped in urban legend.  As Frannie says, ‘I’ve heard stories about this place ever since I was a kid. The Hull Family met a pretty gruesome end.’
Judy, the ‘good girl,’ goes to the party with her boyfriend, Jay, who seems nice, but is actually a jerk.  Also attending are Max, Judy’s ex-boyfriend who seems like a jerk but is actually nice; Stooge, the fat jock; Helen, the shy girl; and Roger, the black guy.  The characters are mostly just fodder for the pandemonium that follows, and aren’t really explored beyond the traits I’ve listed, but they are more than sufficient for the story being told.

As cliched as the characters may be, the plot drags them in unexpected directions.  The teens that survived in the end are not the ones I predicted at the start of the film.

The last member of the party is the slutty girl, Suzanne, played by the famous scream queen, Linnea Quigley.  She’s the first to be possessed, though the possessed Angela (whom Suzanne infects by kissing) is the leader of the demons (she’s the one in the movie poster).  I guess that as the host of the party, the demons recognize her as a leader.

The teens pair off and wander throughout the house looking for places to have sex; meanwhile, the possession spreads from person to person, until all but a few of the kids are turned into hideous monsters.

The make-up effects are quite good.  Mostly, they mimic injuries (as the teens turn into demons after they’re murdered in gory ways) though Angela, as the leader, is a little uglier.  One of the stand out scenes is Suzanne’s fake breasts, which she stabs a lipstick tube into.  They look a little rubbery, but are a good likeness for the real things.

There’s a kind of lightness to the movie.  It’s not outright humor, but the tone is more colorful than horrific.  It’s somewhat like The Return of the Living Dead, or Nightmare on Elm Street; there are very violent moments, and some shock scares, but the monsters are a little too wacky to be frightening.  It seems to be very typical of ’80s teen horror.

While not terribly effective as a scary movie,  Night of the Demons is a lot of fun.  It incorporates virtually all the elements of ’80s horror that I love.

For a great Halloween night double feature, watch this and the more recent Trick R Treat.

Review: Breeders

Breeders Blu-ray.jpgBreeders

Breeders was written and directed by Tim Kincaid.  His mainstream directing career spanned three years, producing films like Robot Holocaust and Mutant Hunt.  Aside from that, he has had a far more successful career directing gay porn movies under the name Joe Gage, starting in the ’70s and continuing to this day.

A series of violent sexual assaults plague New York City.  Police Detective Andriotti is on the case, with the help of Dr. Gamble Pace.  Pace is baffled, the only physical evidence they can find on the victims is some mysterious black ooze, and they only thing they have in common is that they were all virgins (and wouldn’t you guess it, so is Dr. Pace), a fact which strikes fear into the hearts of all the untouched women of New York.  As Pace says, “It’s a case like this that makes me want to kill every man ever born.”

The structure of the film is alternating scene of women being attacked, and the cop and doctor talking about it.  Since we see the attack and perpetrator in the first scene, there’s no mystery from the audience’s perspective. Not much of one anyways.  We know the villain is a monstrous creature, though we don’t know it’s origins.

The monster is portrayed by a man in a fly mask and a lumpy wetsuit.  For most of the film, we only see fleeting glimpses, but I suspect that’s more to hide failings in the make-up, than any stylistic goal.  There actually are some pretty good special effects in the movie, like when the monster breaks out of its human disguises, resulting in a gory scene of a man’s flesh being torn apart from the inside.

There’s a lot of nudity in this movie.  In Tim Kincaid’s world, whenever women are alone, they immediately take off all their clothes and set about doing their chores.  This goes on for a few minutes until the fly-headed man shows up and attacks them.  The attacks themselves are mostly off screen, so we’re at least spared that.

Breeders runs 77 minutes, which is really just lazy.  It’s not like the film has a tight narrative that it has to honour, Kincaid could have easily thrown in some more scenes of naked women wandering around to pad the run-time to a more respectable 90 minutes.

Review: Night of the Demons 3

night of the demons 3.jpgNight of the Demons 3

Night of the Demons 3, the final film in the original trilogy, continues the Halloween tradition of demonic possession and teenage delinquency.  The demon Angela, the only character to appear in all three films, is once again portrayed by Amelia Kinkade, who has since moved on to a career as a pet psychic.

In many ways, Night of the Demons 3 feels like a slightly modified remake of the first film in the series. Like the original, it features a diverse group of teens making their way to Hull House on Halloween night, only to fall pray to demonic possession.

Nice girl Holly and shy girl Abbie are on their way to the school’s Halloween dance when their car breaks down; luckily, a van full of their less-reputable classmates happens along to give them a lift.

In the van are Nick, the guy that seems like a jerk but is actually nice; Vince, the bad boy; Orson, the over-compensating wannabe bad boy; Lois, the slutty girl, and Reggie, the black guy.

They pull into a convenience store, where Reggie tries to illicitly acquire beer (not unlike Angela’s beer heist in the first film).  Actually, a number of notable scenes from the first movie are re-imagined for this one.  Abbie is changing in her bedroom when her little brothers burst in, which is similar to the scene with Judy and her brother in the original, though with less creepy incestuous undertones.  Also, Angela once again does her ‘seductive’ dance, though it’s more effective this time around.

Anyways, the store clerk pulls a gun on Reggie, but Vince takes it from him.  The situation spirals out of control when two cops walk in, and Vince shoots one of them.  The kids speed off.  Vince is in a panic, telling the others that they’re all accessories, while Nick and Holly try to tend to Reggie, who was shot in the crossfire.  The eventually find their way to Hull House, which Vince deems to be the perfect hiding spot, despite Abbie’s warnings of its demonic past.

Abbie’s supposed to be the shy girl, but she’s actually pretty mouthy.  Maybe she’s not shy, maybe it’s just that no one wants to talk to her.

After their arrival, the film plays out pretty much like the first, as Angela shows up and possesses them one by one.  There’s a few differences, like the concept that Angela has to ‘seduce’ them to her side before she can make them demons, and their demonic forms tend to incorporate their Halloween costumes (when they have them).

The acting is fine.  There are no standouts like Linnea Quigley from the first film, but no one holds it back, either.  Amelia Kinkade (32 at the time of this film’s release) no longer looks like a teenager, but has appropriately adapted the role to that of the evil older woman.  The special effects and makeup are okay, but have a thin veneer of cheapness over them.  They has that ‘direct to video’ look.

The third Night of the Demons makes an admirable attempt to recapture the wild fun of the first.  It doesn’t quite achieve it, but the resulting film is  reasonably entertaining in its own right.

Review: Halloween – The Curse of Michael Myers

Halloween 6.jpgHalloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Hey, have you ever wondered what happened to Tommy Doyle?  The boy that Laurie Strode was babysitting in the first Halloween movie?  No?  Well, here he is…

Tommy Doyle grew up to be Paul Rudd.  He also developed a strange, Hannibal Lecter-like speech pattern.  He has been obsessively studying Michael Myers, apparently unsatisfied with the first film’s assertion that he was simply a man with no ‘soul.’  To that end, he concocts a baseless theory about an ancient Druid curse in which a child is chosen to make a blood sacrifice of his kin so that the others of the village avoid…something bad.

And it turns out he’s right.

Although there’s a bit of a jump; this sixth installment in the franchise completes a story started in Halloween 4.  Essentially, it’s the ‘Jamie Trilogy,’ wherein the orphaned daughter of the original film’s heroine becomes the new target for The Shape (that’s what he’s been called in the credits since the first movie, by the way).  Throughout the last three films, there have been hints of the Druid cult story; the ‘thorn’ rune has shown up as tattoos and scrawled on walls, and we’ve seen the ‘men in black’ lurking around.  Jamie appears in this film, briefly, and with an unexplained pregnancy.

I have a blanket objection to horror movies that feel the need to explain their monster; especially when that explanation softens them; like, ‘Michael can’t help it, he’s cursed!’  The strength of the original Halloween was that there was nothing special about Michael.  He was a seemingly normal kid from a normal family; it’s the idea that it could have been anyone that made it so effective.

Anyway, the cult and conspiracy storyline really detracts from the horror.  Michael Myers is no longer a faceless killer, but a sci-fi/fantasy creature, under the control of people in stupid costumes who use magic.  I like stories like that in general, but this one in particular is trite, and it doesn’t suit the character of Michael at all.

Donald Pleasence, in his final Halloween appearance, delivers his best-ever performance as Dr. Loomis, Myers’ grossly out matched but ever determined hunter.  He’s older and wiser.  He’s not as panicky and scream-prone as he used to be, and as a result, he actually seems like a match for Michael Myers.  Still not as strong, of course, but maybe able to outsmart him.

Halloween (6): The Curse of Michael Myers is weighed down by a silly mythology that not only gets in the way of the horror, but also severely dampens it.  The kills take a backseat to awkward plot points, so while there are some decently gory scenes, they lack the buildup to make them memorable.

Reivew: The Woods

The Woods.jpgThe Woods

Shortly after her arrival at the all-girl Falburn Academy, Heather (Agnes Bruckner) is given the un-affectionate nickname ‘fire crotch’ by the school’s resident bitch, Samantha, on account of her natural red hair.

It’s not quite what you’d expect from a story set in 1964.

It’s very hard to create effective witches in a horror film; magic spells are inherently ridiculous, so making them scary is quite the task.  Further, their representation usually falls into either the ugly old crone, or the sexy witch categories, cliches which make them even harder to take seriously.  What director Lucky McKee and writer David Ross have managed to do with The Woods is craft a form of witchcraft that seems almost natural.  The trick is that it’s indirect.  The witches don’t chant spells or mix potions themselves, but instead call on the forest surrounding the school to do their bidding.  It’s true that an evil, moving forest presents its own believability problems; but the way the witches are grounded in reality almost makes up for it.

Heather is sent to the mysterious private school after setting fire to the woods around her home.  This appears to be mostly at the behest of her mother, while her father (played by horror legend Bruce Campbell) is just acquiescing to his wife’s nagging.  Heather is immediately targeted by the school’s bully, which is odd, seeing as she’s a ‘bad girl’ herself, and you’d expect them to be natural allies.  Instead, Heather befriends the school’s other outcast, Marcy; and the two spend countless hours listening to Marcy’s radio together; in particular, the Leslie Gore song, ‘You Don’t Own Me.’  The song, about a woman telling off her controlling boyfriend, is representative of Heather’s personality and rebellious nature.

A number of girls start disappearing from the school, leaving only a pile of leaves in their place.  Heather is the only one who cares; as the school’s officials try to cover it up, and the other students are too afraid to challenge them.  There’s something very classic about the way this film presents its horror.  There is some graphic violence when needed; but for the most part, it relies on mood and atmosphere.  A pile of leaves isn’t something you’d expect to be scary, but it works so well in creating a tone that it ends up being far creepier than a pool of blood would have been.

The main drawback to The Woods is the ending act, in which all the things that were suggested or hinted at suddenly become too literal.  It’s like the director was fighting the whole way against making a traditional horror film, but then couldn’t think of a good ending and fell back into the old cliches.  It’s not a horrible ending in its own right; but it’s not as good as the build up.

That said, the film as a whole more than makes up for the shortcomings with its ending.  The Woods is a beautifully shot film with a genuinely creepy feel that has rarely been seen in a horror movie for the last 50 years.

Review: The Monster Squad

Monster Squad.jpgThe Monster Squad

In much the same way the protagonists of The Monster Squad are obsessed with monster movies, I, as a child, was obsessed with The Monster Squad.  I rented it every single time I went to the video store, and had all the best moments and lines memorized.  It wasn’t the monsters that excited me, it was the fantasy of fighting them.  Watching Horace blow a hole in the Gill Man made me think, ‘I want to do that.’

The titular ‘monster squad’ existed before the arrival of the monsters.  It’s a loosely knit club for classic monster movie aficionados, who spend their time drawing monsters and debating whether or not Wolf Man has nards.

Sean is their leader, he’s the brash son of a cop whose parents fight a lot.  He pushes the squad into fighting the monsters, perhaps because it is a simple problem of good vs. evil that gives him a sense of control and order that he is lacking in his home life.  His sister Phoebe is the ‘innocent,’ who befriends Frankenstein monster’s.

Rudy is supposed to be the ‘cool kid.’  He wears a leather jacket and intimidates the bullies in town, and yet he spends an inordinate amount of time hanging out with younger kids.  Patrick is Sean’s friend; he’s pretty much just the straight-man who’s there to tell everyone how dumb they’re being.  Lastly is Horace, the Fat Kid who has been bullied all his life, and is now forced to stand up to something.

The monsters are about as two dimensional as can be.  They just kind of show up one day, and Dracula’s only motivation is evil for evil’s sake.  There’s a few cliched elements tacked on, like the idea that Frankenstein’s monster is really just misunderstood, and the Wolf Man desperately wants to be freed of the curse so that he can stop killing, both of which were taken from the 1940s Universal monster movies about those characters.

The plot is likewise simple.  There’s a magic crystal that can either banish the monsters for ever or ensure their rule, and it’s only active once every hundred years.  And wouldn’t you know it, it just so happens that tomorrow night is the big night.

There isn’t much depth to The Monster Squad, but there are many wonderful and memorable moments.  This movie, much like The Goonies, is pure fantasy fulfillment for children.

Review: The Unholy

The Unholy (1988)

The Unholy Vestron.jpgEvery three years or so, Satan sends the worst of his demons, The Unholy, to test a representative of God, The Chosen One.

Satan won three years ago, but nothing much happened as a result, so I guess the battle is purely for bragging rights.

God’s ‘Chosen One’ is always a Catholic priest, which must mean that Catholicism is the one true denomination.  The Devil has an interesting way of challenging the Chosen One.  The Unholy appears before the Chosen One and offers them their deepest, darkest desire.  Then, if the Chosen One gives into the temptation, The Unholy kills him.  According to the movie, the ‘deepest, darkest desire’ of every Catholic priest is a hot red-head in a see-through nightgown.  That’s right – an adult woman.

The Chosen One this time around is a slightly roguish (he smokes!) young priest who falls out of a third floor window while trying to talk down a suicidal man.  The fact that he survived the fall suggests to the priests-that-be that he may be the chosen of God, so they place him in the same church that the last Chosen One won lost his battle.

Once there, the young priest gets involved with a waitress, Milly, who works at a Satanist-themed nightclub run by a man that looks like a pretty version of Rutger Hauer.  There’s some sub-plot about the club wanting to use the priest to drum up business, but it doesn’t really add much to the movie.

The big draw in the film is actually the monster effects.  They aren’t realistic, but they’re so campy and old-school that they’re just delightful to look at.  There’s a great scene in which a dog-woman covered in slime licks the priest while two little people in homunculus costumes run around in the back.  There’s a sort of magic that’s lost in a scene like this when the monsters look too real.

The priest is a dull character.  He’s too idealistically priest-like, there’s no nuance or conflict within him.  Milly is a bit more of a mystery, whether she is good or bad.

The story leading up to the great monster showdown is somewhat dull.  It’s a lot of uneventful conversations in small rooms.  Despite being a war between good and evil, there’s no real sense of scale or danger.  The only real stake in the battle is the life of the priest himself, but given his devotion, I don’t think he’d mind dying for the cause all that much.

Local Comic Book Shop Wednesday – L.A. Mood

As a comic store, L.A. Mood is pretty light.  There’s a limited selection of graphic novels and comics in the back.

The store is more concerned with gaming, particularly Magic the Gathering.  I can’t speak to it’s selection on that front, as games aren’t really my thing. But the store seems like a great place to go if you like Magic, it frequently holds tournaments and events for the game.

Website: http://lamoodcomics.ca/

Address: 350 Richmond St, London, ON

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Review: I Was A Teenage Ninja

I was a teenage ninja.jpgI Was A Teenage Ninja

The tragic history of Christianity’s early attempts to gain a foothold in Japan set the stage for this story of a young woman who unknowingly becomes the pawn of the cruel Shogunate who killed her father, and has now been sent to assassinate her mother.

The original title of this film is ‘Christian Kunoichi Aome’s Story.’  Kunoichi means ‘female ninja.’  It’s 1549.  Years ago, a Christian missionary, Xavier, arrived in Japan and started preaching the gospel.  He amasses a few followers, most notably a middle-aged Japanese woman named Kiara with whom he has a daughter.

About this time, the Shogunate (the warlord ruler of Japan) begins to crack down on the new religion, sending his samurai to slaughter them in their mountain enclaves.  Xavier is killed and his wife escapes; but his daughter Aome is spared by one of the Shogunate’s men.  She is taken in and raised by the man, and trained in the art of ninjitsu.

Aome knows nothing of her parents, except for the crucifix necklace they left behind.  As such, she follows the Christian faith, while carrying out assassinations for the Shogunate.

At this point, the story gets odd.  Aome’s mother is obsessed with freeing Xavier and the other Christians from Hell.  Why are Christian martyrs in Hell?  I don’t know.  Anyways, Kiara turns to the black arts to accomplish this goal.  With the help of her hermaphrodite assistant, Shizu, she abducts pretty, young women to serve as blood sacrifices.  Unfortunately, their latest victim is Aome’s best friend, a blind girl.

I Was A Teenage Ninja is part of a Japanese film series called, ‘Voluptuous Ninja.’  The stars are all drawn from Japan’s adult film industry.  This one stars Saki Ninomiya, who does a competent job.

Remember in Back to the Future Part 3, where Doc gives Marty that stupid, colorful cowboy costume because he saw ones like it in the movies?  The costumes in this film reminded me of that scene.  Like someone’s understanding of Shogunate times came from campy movies; either that, or they went to the costume shop and bought the first ‘sexy ninja’ outfit the came across.  The special effects are bad, predictably, but I’ll give them credit for at least trying.

As a soft-core film, it does what it sets out to do, but it has no particular merit beyond that.

 

Review: Plastic Little

51S1PMERANL.jpgPlastic Little

Captain Tita is a pet shop hunter.  She and the crew of the Cha Cha Maru sail the ‘Sea of Clouds,’ on some distant gas giant searching for exotic alien life forms to sell to collectors.

But that’s not the plot of the movie.  Instead it’s about Elysse, the daughter of a scientist who was working on a gravity belt (the device that allows people to live on the gas giant).  The scientist tried to sabotage his own work when he found out it would be used for military purposes and died while helping Elysse escape.

Luckily, Elysse ran into Tita in a market, thus bringing the pet shop hunters a new mission.

Plasitic Little is a 50 minute one-shot OAV, that pretty much gets right down to business, which in this case is the business of showing topless ladies and explosions.  The story is simple, but not bad.  There’s a bit of a mystery, an escalation of threat, a mix of fast and slow scenes, and some nice action set pieces.  Given that it’s a very short film, the plot is pretty respectable.

Characters, likewise, are one-dimensional, but effective for their purpose.  Tita is competent leader when necessary, but prone to over-sleeping and self-conscious over her small bust size.  She became captain when the previous captain, her father, disappeared. There’s some sense that the crew, inherited from her father, stay on out of a sense of loyalty, or perhaps a need to protector her in place of their deceased friend.

Tita’s missing father, and the adoption of his work gives her a connection to Elysse, who is in a similar situation.

The OAV was created by Satoshi Urushihara, a manga artist who is famous for the way be draws women, which is kind of shiny and perfect.  Also, he puts far more effort into drawing nipples than anyone else in the industry.

Local Comic Book Shop Wednesday – Heroes

Heroes is an awesome store. First, it’s really big.  It’s thin, but really long (that’s what she said).  Plus it has a second floor. It’s quite possibly the biggest comic store I’ve ever been to (bigger than Paradise Comics, or Beguiling).  Its manga selection is fairly light, but for mainstream comics, it has a bit of everything; and a wide assortment of toys, too.

But what makes the store truly special is its huge selection of discount books. The entire length of the store is lined with comic boxes filled with 50% off books; that’s in addition to the whole second floor devoted to the same (along with piles of books for $3.99).  It’s the only store that can rival BMV for deals.

Website: http://www.heroescomics.ca/

Address: 186 Dundas St, London, ON

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